Best New Books: Week of 6/30/2020

“We don’t always do the things our parents want us to do, but it is their mistake if they can’t find a way to love us anyway.” – J. Courtney Sullivan, Commencement


Friends and Strangers by  J. Courtney Sullivan ★

friends and strangersElisabeth, an accomplished journalist and new mother, is struggling to adjust to life in a small town after nearly twenty years in New York City. Alone in the house with her infant son all day (and awake with him much of the night), she feels uneasy, adrift. She neglects her work, losing untold hours to her Brooklyn moms’ Facebook group, her “influencer” sister’s Instagram feed, and text messages with the best friend she never sees anymore.

Enter Sam, a senior at the local women’s college, whom Elisabeth hires to babysit. Sam is struggling to decide between the path she’s always planned on and a romantic entanglement that threatens her ambition. She’s worried about student loan debt and what the future holds. In short order, they grow close. But when Sam finds an unlikely kindred spirit in Elisabeth’s father-in-law, the true differences between the women’s lives become starkly revealed and a betrayal has devastating consequences.

A masterful exploration of motherhood, power dynamics, and privilege in its many forms, Friends and Strangers reveals how a single year can shape the course of a life.

Description from Goodreads.

“An insightful examination of everything from social media’s magnetic pull to the power dynamics between domestic workers and their employers.” – Washington Post

“Readers should jettison any expectation they have for the book–fish-out-of-water story, manipulative-nanny chiller, send-up of campus culture. J. Courtney Sullivan’s fifth novel offers something more interesting… Friends and Strangers is about whether the unfairness of privilege can ever be sufficiently offset by good deeds. And what of bad deeds: Are they forgiven if they result from good intentions?… Sullivan massages her themes in scenes as barbed as they are funny, by way of characters as infuriating as they are heartbreaking.” – Shelf Awareness

“Sullivan… writes with empathy for her characters even as she reveals their flaws and shortcomings. And while the story she tells focuses primarily on two women from different backgrounds and at different stages of life, it also illuminates broader issues about money, privilege, and class; marriage, family, and friendship; and the dueling demands of career and domesticity with which many women struggle. This perceptive novel about a complex friendship between two women resonates as broadly as it does deeply.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“A hilarious and insightful novel about a complicated friendship between two very different women… When their differences are revealed, a betrayal takes place with devastating consequences.” – SheReads

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook

Mexican Gothic by  Silvia Moreno-Garcia ★

mexican gothicNoemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

Description from Goodreads.

“…a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror… Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Moreno-Garcia’s energetic romp through the gothic genre (after Gods of Jade and Shadow) is delightfully bonkers… Readers who find the usual country house mystery too tame and languid won’t have that problem here.” – Publishers Weekly

“…Mexican Gothic is one wild and seriously creepy ride!… all of the big reveals kept me guessing.” – The Bookish Libra

“By the time readers have tiptoed and reeled in Noemí’s well-heeled shoes, the turn from mannered mystery to twisted horror will seem as inevitable as the nightmare logic of a Grimm fairy tale. Yet Mexican Gothic has an ending that turns Western fairy tales upside down.” – Los Angeles Times

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook

Sex and Vanity by  Kevin Kwan ★

sex and vanityOn her very first morning on the jewel-like island of Capri, Lucie Churchill sets eyes on George Zao and she instantly can’t stand him. She can’t stand it when he gallantly offers to trade hotel rooms with her so that she can have the view of the Tyrrhenian Sea, she can’t stand that he knows more about Curzio Malaparte than she does, and she really can’t stand it when he kisses her in the darkness of the ancient ruins of a Roman villa and they are caught by her snobbish, disapproving cousin, Charlotte. “Your mother is Chinese so it’s no surprise you’d be attracted to someone like him,” Charlotte teases.

Daughter of an American-born-Chinese mother and blue-blooded New York father, Lucie has always sublimated the Asian side of herself in favor of the white side, and she adamantly denies having feelings for George. But several years later, when George unexpectedly appears in East Hampton where Lucie is weekending with her new fiancé, Lucie finds herself drawn to George again. Soon, Lucy is spinning a web of deceit that involves her family, her fiancé, the co-op board of her Fifth Avenue apartment, and ultimately herself as she tries mightily to deny George entry into her world–and her heart. Moving between summer playgrounds of privilege, peppered with decadent food and extravagant fashion, Sex and Vanity is a truly modern love story, a daring homage to A Room with a View, and a brilliantly funny comedy of manners set between two cultures.

Description from Goodreads.

“Kevin Kwan’s new book is his most decadent yet.” – Entertainment Weekly

“True love will find a way, even among the status-obsessed and filthy rich… [With] irresistibly knowing humor and delightful central characters… While he’s engineering the timeless love story and continuing our postgraduate education in all the things money can buy, Kwan manages to take a few swipes against snobbery and racism. Nice. This is the only way you’re getting to Capri this year. Why resist?” – Kirkus Reviews

“Kwan follows up his Crazy Rich Asians trilogy with an intoxicating, breezy update of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View… Kwan exploits the Forster frame for clever references—including Merchant and Ivory—and provides amusing footnotes. Kwan also relishes describing lavish meals and haute couture clothing, as well as Isabel’s decadent wedding and Cecil’s imaginative, over-the-top proposal. There are moments both catty and witty… [A] delectable comedy of manners—the literary equivalent of white truffle and caviar pizza.” – Publishers Weekly

“The wedding of the summer is still on — and you’d have to be crazy rich not to squeal in vicarious wonder at its opulence.” – Washington Post

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook

Blue Ticket by  Sophie Mackintosh ★

blue ticketCalla knows how the lottery works. Everyone does. On the day of your first bleed, you report to the station to learn what kind of woman you will be. A white ticket grants you marriage and children. A blue ticket grants you a career and freedom. You are relieved of the terrible burden of choice. And once you’ve taken your ticket, there is no going back. But what if the life you’re given is the wrong one?

When Calla, a blue ticket woman, begins to question her fate, she must go on the run. But her survival will be dependent on the very qualities the lottery has taught her to question in herself and on the other women the system has pitted against her. Pregnant and desperate, Calla must contend with whether or not the lottery knows her better than she knows herself and what that might mean for her child.

An urgent inquiry into free will, social expectation, and the fraught space of motherhood, Blue Ticket is electrifying in its raw evocation and desire and riveting in its undeniable familiarity.

Description from Goodreads.

“[Mackintosh’s] style is spare but thoughtful. Every detail enhances the plot and the atmosphere at once… Sophie Mackintosh lays bare many of the fears and realities that face any society’s women as they contemplate when their choices begin, and where they might end.” – Boston Globe

“Mackintosh’s second novel is even more hallucinatory and spiraled than her first… [Blue Ticket is] terrifying and enchanting in equal measure.”-  Lit Hub

“Told with ragged prose that catches the breath, Calla’s journey articulates the irrepressible desires and wounds that can lie deep within, and is marked by a claustrophobia that never stops pressing in from the margins. This unsettling reimagining of the anxieties and pressures around motherhood lays bare the alienation that comes when your body is not truly yours.” – The Irish News

“Mackintosh’s haunting, dystopian tale explores the emotional fallout of forced birth control in a near-future society… [A] tense, visionary drama.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

Nine Shiny Objects by  Brian Castleberry

nine shiny objectsJune 26, 1947. Headlines across America report that an aviator from Idaho witnessed nine pulsating lights flying over the Cascade Mountains at speeds surpassing any aircraft built by humankind. Days later, a desperate Chicago pool hustler, inspired by the news, hitchhikes west in a fever-dream search for a possible extraterrestrial sign. From those he inspires along the way to the Cascades comes a new community—“The Seekers”—devoted to creating a society where divisions of race, ethnicity, and sexuality are a thing of the past.

Believing that utopia will begin in a community of their own creation, The Seekers attempt to settle in the suburbs of Long Island. One night, a stranger arrives and a horrific crime ensues. In the decades that follow, the perpetrators, survivors, and their children will be forced to face the consequences of what happened.

Like an eroding Atlantic seashore, a Cascade mountain snowflake, and the branching crimson streaks in bloodshot eyes, Nine Shiny Objects is a fractal: a novel of intimate reveries that replicates to form a larger portrait of America’s cleaved soul—the perpetual clash between the optimism of those who seek inspiration from spacious skies and the venom of others who relish the underworld—not only via conspiratorial maneuverings, but the literal unearthing of the dead.

Description from Goodreads.

“Impressive… Memorable characters inhabit a surprising, engaging story of American idealism and its dark opposite.” – Kirkus Reviews

“It’s worth it to take your time and savor this one.” – BookPage

“Each character’s chapter has its own voice, and swells with its own concerns, but they all crackle with tension and linger on loss… The perspectives overlap, but the composite leaves some questions unanswered, some connections intriguingly unrevealed… Castleberry’s memorable tale probes fissures and anxieties that are undeniably current.” – Booklist

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook


The Dilemma by  B.A. Paris

dilemmaIt’s Livia’s fortieth birthday and tonight she’s having a party, a party she’s been planning for a long time. The only person missing will be her daughter, Marnie.

But Livia has a secret, a secret she’s been keeping from Adam, her husband, until the party is over. Because how can she tell him that although she loves Marnie, she’s glad their daughter won’t be there to celebrate with her?

Adam is determined everything will be just right for Livia and the party is going to be perfect… until he learns something that will leave him facing an unbearable decision.

Description from Goodreads.

“Highly recommended for lovers of psychological thrillers but be warned this book should come with tissues.” – Compulsive Readers

“An all-encompassing, tightly plotted novel of psychological suspense.” – Kirkus Reviews

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook


Daring and the Duke by  Sarah MacLean

daring and the dukeGrace Condry has spent a lifetime running from her past. Betrayed as a child by her only love and raised on the streets, she now hides in plain sight as queen of London’s darkest corners. Grace has a sharp mind and a powerful right hook and has never met an enemy she could not best… until the man she once loved returns.

Single-minded and ruthless, Ewan, Duke of Marwick, has spent a decade searching for the woman he never stopped loving. A long-ago gamble may have lost her forever, but Ewan will go to any lengths to win Grace back… and make her his duchess.

Reconciliation is the last thing Grace desires. Unable to forgive the past, she vows to take her revenge. But revenge requires keeping Ewan close, and soon her enemy seems to be something else altogether—something she can’t resist, even as he threatens the world she’s built, the life she’s claimed… and the heart she swore he’d never steal again.

Description from Goodreads.

“Dark, daring, delicious, and absolutely delightful.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“…a magnificent romance that’s as satisfying as it is subversive… a masterpiece… Rather than breaking the boundaries of the genre, she opens the genre up, with the same sense of magical discovery as those dreams where you find a new room in your home. The result is a romance that feels at once classical and sui generis, steeped in the history of the genre but utterly original.” – New York Times Book Review

“There’s nothing I love more than two powerful characters fighting it out for dominance when love requires submitting to one another. There’s no author who writes that kind of love story better than Sarah MacLean.” – The Cool Table

Available Formats:

Hoopla eAudiobook


Home Before Dark by  Riley Sager

home before darkWhat was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

Description from Goodreads.

“[An] outstanding supernatural thriller… Sager, who makes the house a palpable, threatening presence, does a superb job of anticipating and undermining readers’ expectations. Haunted house fans will be in heaven.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“King of thrillers, Sager returns with a pulse-pounding, goosebump-inducing tale of a woman who goes back to her childhood home—and the setting of a true horror story.” – Newsweek 

“Another breathtaking hit from Sager, who’s proven himself a master at crafting new twists on classic horror tales.” – Booklist

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook


I Killed Zoe Spanos by  Kit Frick

i killed zoe spanosWhat happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

Description from Goodreads.

“The YA thriller of the summer.” – Bustle

“A gloriously twisty, unreliably narrated thriller.” – Buzzfeed

“A gripping… and tightly wound exploration of the price of secrets.” – Booklist

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook

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